Breaking Up Is Hard ... With Your Shrink

Time to say goodbye?
Time to say goodbye?
Rinny Gremaud

LAUSANNE — She's seen me naked. How can I leave her? He brought me so much. How can I tell him I'm leaving? I spent so much time finding the right one. Now we're supposed to just split up? And yet things were clear from the start: This was always going to be a temporary relationship. It had to be faced. I had to leave my shrink.

But there's an art and a way of doing this. Some people do it in stages. Others goof up their leave-taking. "It's an extraordinarily complex question," says Ignacio Pelegri, a psychoanalyst in Geneva. "It's as if I were to ask you how to put an end to your relationship with your parents. Does that relationship ever really end? In one way, yes. Parents do at some point distance themselves from their parental roles. But the connection is lost beyond a certain framework."

In most cases, the relationship with a shrink ends by common agreement. "The end of analysis is the end of a creative process," says Jean-Marc Chauvin, also a psychoanalyst in Geneva. "At some point in the analytical trajectory both the analysed and analyst get the feeling some process has reached an end, even if there are still some open questions," he says. "For example, tomorrow I intend to end a relationship of four years with one of my patients. He and I agree there remain some things to see to. I even have the intuition that he's stopping at a time when he would be ready to deal with some painful and threatening things. But together we have understood and tied up things that will now help him make his way on his own."

Dag Söderström, a psychiatrist, psychotherapist and Lausanne-based member of the Swiss Medical Assciation (FMH) describes therapeutic work as "a spiral path." He says that even as patients progress, they keep returning to the same questions. "But as we do so our point of view gets richer," he says. "A good time to stop is when you get the impression a circle has closed."

A question of timing

The eventuality of the separation is discussed several months ahead. It needs to have time to mature, to be evaluated by both parties until it's acceptable to both. That's a process that can sometimes play out over years. "For some people, the place where the therapy took place is the place where they built a new personality," says Söderström. "So it's difficult for them to envisage leaving this seminal place."

Going bananas? — Photo: James Nash

On average, an analysis lasts between five and 10 years, and therapy two to five years. So why not set a date for the end of therapy right from the outset? "The unconscious needs to know it has time to express itself," says Jean-Marc Chauvin. "All limits encourage the subjet to hold back. It's as if you were to meet somebody and you know that person's going to leave the country in a few months. You won't invest in that relationship in the same way you would if their presence wasn't just going to be for a limited amount of time."

Some therapist/patient couples end up never leaving each other. "When the therapy ends, the relationship doesn't and it can be reactivated," says Söderström. "Some patients return when they are confronted with new existential problems. Because it's easier to work with a known therapist. It's a simple question of efficacy." But doesn't that indicate a form of dependence? "In general, the issue of dependence in relationships is one that has existed well before the therapist arrives on the scene," he says. "Therapy makes it possible to become aware of it, to live the dependence in a safe framework, to name it and work on it. In and of itself dependence is not an illness."

Cut and run?

At the other end of the spectrum are patients who leap from a moving train and leave the therapeutic relationship from one day to the next, without letting the therapist know. "That can be linked to a need to put some distance between the one who was dropped and the framework of the analysis," says Ignacio Pelegri. "They are replaying things that happened in the relationship with the psychoanalyst, things that the person experienced. If it was traumatic, the patient could be feeling the sudden need to take distance."

In such cases it is rare for an analyst or therapist to hold on to their patient or try and make them come back. "On the other hand, if the analyst or therapist senses that the need for distance is a kind of escape, they could share that with the patient who could then feel relief at having been understood," says Pelegri.

Then there are the cases where the shrink him or herself, with goodwill, pushes the patient towards the exit door. "Doctors and psychiatrists — all those who protect patients from death — are invested with something eternal," says Söderström.

"The patient sometimes imagines that the disappearance of the shrink will lead to the disintegration of everything they've built within the framework of the therapy," he adds. "When such anxieties manifest, they generally prompt me to tell the patient it’s time to stop. Just to prove to the patient that it’s not true, that they’ve now got all they need to deal with things themselves. But I always leave an open door. And I invite them to keep in touch, to write to me to let me know how things are going.”

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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